Science

Facebook is officially building an internet satellite: Athena – CNET

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This May, sleuths at IEEE Spectrum revealed something exciting — Facebook appeared to be secrely working on an experimental satellite that could beam internet down to Earth using millimeter wave radio signals.

Now, Facebook has confirmed to Wired and CNET that the satellite, dubbed Athena, is indeed a Facebook project — and that Facebook is a believer in satellite internet technology.

"While we have nothing to share about specific projects at this time, we believe satellite technology will be an important enabler of the next generation of broadband infrastructure, making it possible to bring broadband connectivity to rural regions where internet connectivity is lacking or non-existent," a Facebook spokesperson told CNET and Wired.

But Wired does have more to share about this specific project. Using a Freedom of Information Act request, Wired says it obtained emails from the FCC that reportedly show Facebook plans to launch the Athena satellite in early 2019. In space launch terms, that's coming up pretty dang fast.

Athena might not provide a substantial amount of broadband by itself, though. Companies like OneWeb and SpaceX — which launched its first internet satellites in February — are hoping to achieve their goals by launching literally thousands of small satellites into low Earth orbit to form entire "constellations" that beam internet down to the ground.

It'll be interesting if it turns out satellites are now Facebook's preferred way to bring internet to the world. The company had ambitious plans to fire down internet from high-altitude drones, but decided to shut down its Aquila drone hardware operations in June.

Update, 5:55p.m. PT: Added additional confirmation from Facebook to CNET.

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